When you’re in eight leagues and your day job involves breaking down the fantasy prospects of every player for every game, it’s inevitable that football is never far from your mind. And since many of the same dilemmas I encounter are ones you the readers bump up against as well, I thought it might make sense to share some of my thought processes with you. There’s no rhyme or reason to the topics to be discussed here, other than at some point they popped into my head, kicking to the side lyrics from some obscure ‘80s song (“We left for Frisco in your Rambler/The radiator running dry/I've never been much of a gambler/and had a preference to fly”) and commanding my attention.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and with all due respect to Andy Williams I’m of course referring to the fantasy football playoffs. But after managing eight teams (give or take; as I tell my wife when she asks exactly how many leagues I play in, the answer is “eight... that you know about”) for three months it’s time to kick two to the curb, give three the week off (gotta love those byes), and focus on getting three Ws this week.
That’s a lot of free time, and what better way to spend that free time than looking back on what helped me get here—both the good and the bad.
WHAT WORKED: ELITE RECEIVERS, MID-RANGE BACKS
The only draft I took a back in the first round in, I didn’t make the playoffs. Meanwhile, my preferred strategy of loading up on receivers and “settling” for mid-range backs paid dividends across the board.
It’s no use debating this with those who can’t get past running back/running back; it’s like explaining HD cable to someone with a black and white television. In its simplest form, it’s taking elite receivers (my division winning teams are populated by Reggie Wayne (thrice), Roddy White, Andre Johnson, Marques Colston, and Dwayne Bowe) over first-round backs. Those same teams are powered by backs who coming into the season were ranked in the 20s (LeSean McCoy thrice, Ahmad Bradshaw twice), 40s (Darren McFadden), or picked up off the waiver wire (Chris Ivory twice, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, LeGarrette Blount, Mike Tolbert).
I did have Maurice Jones-Drew on two teams, one a dynasty league squad that went 9-4 and has this week off and the other where he was my first round pick and I’m taking off the rest of the season. The former is stocked at receiver; taking MoJo in the latter left me with Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, and Robert Meachem as my go-to wideouts.
Of course, no “system” is foolproof; my SOFA team battling for a wildcard spot has Wayne and AJ but got stung by the injury bug at running back; had Pierre Thomas and Joseph Addai played more than nine games between them, I’d like to think that playoff berth would be wrapped up. And my FSWA entry that went heavy on pass-catchers not only stumbled with the injuries and/or non-elite performances of Brandon Marshall and Steve Smith, it also missed badly from the top down on running backs: Spiller, Michael Bush, Portis, Ricky Williams. Too bad the late-round flier on Tashard Choice never got a chance to pan out; in a 12-game regular season where the top four teams move on I was out before Choice got his chance.
In the end, though, my teams without a preseason RB1 compiled a 67% winning percentage. I’ll definitely play those odds again.
WHAT DIDN’T: TOP-END QUARTERBACKS
I’ve never shied away from taking a quarterback early on, usually over a back rather than a wide receiver. It goes against the general consensus, but so does taking receivers over backs. While that worked—again—this year, the teams where I went early on quarterbacks (Peyton Manning, Tony Romo) compiled a 20-19 record. Waiting a little longer for Matt Schaub (three leagues) or Eli Manning or even cobbling together quarterbacks all year long starting with Palmer and Hasselbeck and currently mixing in Kerry Collins yielded an overall 45-19 mark.
Taking Peyton and Romo required a second- or third-round pick this year; Schaub was more like a fourth or fifth, Eli fifth or later. This year, that was the difference between picking up another quality wideout or starting on those mid-range backs. It’s similar to the WR/RB dichotomy in the first round or two: Would you rather have Wayne/McCoy or Steven Jackson/Chad Ochocinco? Would you rather have Manning/Marion Barber or Schaub/Bradshaw?
Obviously hindsight is 20/20, but if you don’t look back at what worked and what didn’t you’ll make the same mistakes next year. Actually, you might still make the same mistakes next year anyway; even after 20-plus years of playing fantasy football I find myself falling into the same traps. But it doesn’t mean you should just walk into those same traps without looking for a way around.